GUEST POST – DAN RICHARDS @onearmedwonder

 

I am so pleased that Dan agreed to write a blog post for me and my readers, he is a massive advocate for body positivity and body confidence including being a presenter on Channel Four’s NAKED BEACH, and I admire him greatly, thank you Dan.

Find Dan @theonearmedwonder on most social media channels.

“Coming to Terms with Body Altering Surgery”

Up until about 3 years ago, if you’d have asked me what ‘Body Confidence’ is I’d have probably looked at you and said something like “what on earth do you mean?” It was only through a friend who was making waves in addressing body confidence and lack thereof that I got my first introduction to it, but through my own naiveté and the fact that my friend was a woman I also assumed it’s something that only effects women!? Obviously I found out that this wasn’t the case.

I lost my arm and shoulder whilst in the military in a road traffic collision, I was 23 years old and my career was going relatively well. I’d not long finished a tour of Afghanistan and just completed a five-week trek through Nepal and The Himalayas, with aspirations to train and qualify as a farrier. These ambitions (and eventually my career) were taken away from me almost in the blink of an eye.

I had accepted my situation, life as an amputee, pretty much straight away. In hospital I somehow managed to crack a joke and get a few laughs and I suppose, looking back, it enabled me the mental capacity and freedom to begin the learning process of adapting to and overcoming this new situation and environment I found myself in. The rest of my life as a left handed man, having spent my life right hand dominant. The first goal I ever set was to win back my independence, I had no idea just how much of an impact goal setting will have on my life in the years to come.

I returned to my regiment after 6 months of rehab for 3 more years before being told I was to be medically retired, during that time I’d relearned to ride a horse, gained back my fitness and learned to rock climb, ultimately though, I had to accept that my aspirations of becoming a farrier were just not meant to be.

I returned home to my parents after 10 years with the military on 28th September 2012 and so began my spiral down to what became my rock bottom. I guess the absence of any self-worth and my entire identity coupled with the fact and realisation that I couldn’t get a job anywhere or even an interview, I felt more like a drain on society. I tried and ultimately failed to ‘find a way out’. The realisation that this wasn’t normal and that I needed help.

Over the next few years I set about getting myself back to London doing various jobs including working as a chauffeur and project management deciding to grab any opportunity that came my way.

I’d always felt like there was something missing, I’d spent all the proceeding years accepting my situation and how “different” I looked from everybody else. I spent a number of years laughing about the various descriptive ‘tongue in cheek’ self-reference jokes. I figured that if I could make people laugh and see that I could laugh at myself (which I still can), then it’d put others at ease.

I used to wear a prosthetic arm with a pretty cool robotic hand, the fact that it actually served no functional purpose to me other than giving other people something cool to look at, the prosthetic arm became my shield like some kind of robotic safety blanket!!!! I’d wear clothing too big just to hide the outline of anything out of the ordinary underneath my clothing. I guess I compartmentalised everything in a kind’ve validation seeking exercise! It just meant that I hated summer because wearing less clothing wasn’t an option I was willing to explore, this image of self-confidence I portrayed was a put on show for everybody else, I wouldn’t even take my shirt off, go to a swimming pool or even the beach just to avoid any judgement. I literally felt like a duck floating gracefully on the surface of a lake but kicking hard underneath to stay afloat; it was a pretty vicious cycle!

 

So what changed? I had decided to take up cycling early in 2016 and in doing so got myself an Instagram account as a means to track my progress. I had set a goal of competing in the 2018 Invictus Games, I had caught the attention of an agency who offered me a modelling contract, this coupled with some test shoots the cycling and my first modelling, I started to notice various changes including the fact that I wasn’t wearing my prosthetic arm anymore, in fact it had stayed under my bed for the best part of a year, my cycling was getting better and I developed a whole new appreciation for what I was actually capable of!

I was asked by my agency to take part in a test shoot project for an art photography student – a test shoot is an unpaid shoot where a photographer books a model to build each other’s portfolios. The catch with this was that it was a risqué shoot; completely out of my comfort zone!! About half way through the shoot I just decided to embrace the unknown and I guess in essence I took a long running jump so far out of my comfort zone that (speaking metaphorically) the only way back was to get used to it and stroll back, I guess you can liken it to jumping into a pool for the first time to embrace the cold. It’s the single most liberating feeling I’ve ever had. What unfolded from that point was a complete feeling of self-acceptance and self-worth that had been missing all those years.

Even though I had accepted my body altering surgery from a hospital bed way back in 2009 which I absolutely had, I guess I hadn’t accepted that acceptance runs so much deeper than what other people think. I began to put in place a number of prerequisites, some rules if you like, for myself.

For one thing I spent a number of years constantly comparing myself to other people’s aesthetic, especially where other guys were concerned. I’d look at guys with big shoulders and chests and instantly feel utterly shit about myself because, well, I’d never be able to look like that – a quarter of my upper body is missing including my right shoulder and it’s never coming back, So I decided that if I couldn’t be “that image” then I’ll just be my own and compare myself to the guy I see in the mirror. More over from that another big marker for me to contend with was what (I thought) other people thought of me and people’s opinions, then I discovered one day at the beach (of all places) that nobody is actually really bothered about me being there, they’re more interested in doing their own thing and those opinions… to be quite honest somebody’s opinion of me is literally none of my business and completely out of my control and what’s out of my control isn’t my problem, it’s there’s so, let them deal with it.

I never really intended to become a body positive advocate, I guess that all change in 2018 when I was asked to cast for and then subsequently accepted as a member of the Body Confidence Host Cast for a Channel 4 series called Naked Beach.

Naked Beach was a 5-episode social experiment reality TV Series which looked at and dived into the various hang ups people had about themselves when compared to the ‘media norms’ of an idealistic and beauty standard or the “perfect image”. Dr Keon West; a social psychologist conducted research that found people with low opinion of themselves; Body Confidence, Life Satisfaction and Self Esteem, that being around an array “normal bodies” allowed them the lower their barriers and be able to begin to address their issues, and together with Natasha Devon, Naked Beach was born. I guess that’s what gave me a platform and a voice for advocating body confidence.

Coming to terms with body altering surgery is something that has taken me, all in all, almost 8 years from 2009 to 2017! Could it have taken less time? Yes, probably, who knows? I never really had anyone like myself to look up to on social media or anywhere else for that matter so I’ve spent a lot of time figuring it all out for myself, I’m grateful that I’m in a position to be able to help and share my experience with others. This came a lot closer to home recently, towards the end of 2019 when my brother was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis which resulted in the removal of his colon. I guess he knows I’m at the end of a phone should he need help or advice but he’s my little brother; he’ll get the advice whether he wants it or not!! We often joke to my mum about us both being amputees we both agree though, that above anything else we’re pretty lucky.

What else can I ask for?

 

Brace face, my experience with orthodontic braces

 

My teeth have been the bane of my life for many years. As a young child my baby teeth refused to come out and I remember the awful times I needed gas to be put to sleep and get them removed. My big teeth were growing in all directions to get past the milk teeth. After what I thought would be a final trip for teeth removal I was referred to an orthodontist for a brace. I was in my very early teens at a guess and my mum came with me. I was horrified to be told I needed some teeth removing for the brace to fit, and something I regret to this day is that I point blank refused.

I don’t really remember a lot of persuading to change my mind and we went home and that was that. I would love to think that if they had told me that when I was older my bottom jaw would recede to the point I hate profile photos, or that I would smile with my mouth closed on most photos for many years ( looking like Zippy usually) I may have decided differently. But they didn’t tell me anything like that and as a child I probably wouldn’t listen anyway.

So from my twenties to my fifties my teeth have been a hated part of my body. The prices of braces were ridiculous and I knew there would be a chance I needed more extractions, which I was too scared to get done. So I carried on with this hatred, trying to hide my smile and teeth at every opportunity. Children are usually honest and at work one time, a young girl I was helping came out with ” Your teeth are like a vampires”  I replied in the jokey way that I do, but that statement never left my mind. If my teeth did show on photographs the two front ones would look dark because they were set back, and as for the bottom ones …… it was like Stonehenge.

My friends have gorgeous teeth and I was very jealous. When I see photos of me doing a zippy, I can feel the anguish of that photo but no one else would guess. There would be the odd photo that caught me by surprise and I really didn’t like them.

Eventually after I had my stoma surgery and had been so unwell I decided I needed to treat myself and got a loan and braces. It has been the best decision that I have made, so two years and about five months ago, I braved my fear and had three teeth removed and got my brace fitted. I felt great straight away. I opted for a clear brace on the top and because of my overbite a metal brace on the bottom. ( The overbite is here to stay though unless I have jaw surgery and that’s a no from me).

I could slowly see an improvement and began to smile with my teeth showing, and yes it can be painful, and food gets caught in them but my self esteem was improving so much.

Last week I had the braces removed, which was mostly painless, and my teeth are so much better. I smile all the time and show them off, and photos are not an issue. I have many body parts that I don’t like, but the teeth thing was causing some real mental issues.

 

 

Body image and positivity

 

Body image and what we should look like haunt most people. Those with physical body changes , more so. Why should we worry if our bum looks big in something or if our features don’t conform to scientific studies of what beauty is? so what if we lost a limb or our hair? so what if we have a stoma…

As you can probably see from my posts, I am an open person when it comes to my stoma, but believe me, I have many hang ups about my body. I could write a fairly substantial list about what I don’t like, but for the most part, it doesn’t include my stoma. It’s things like, my ( slightly) large nose and lack of a great jawline, but really, why? why do I feel like that? because I know it isn’t perfect so therefore I don’t like it. What is perfection? well science has decided it is certain criteria and measurements that are deemed attractive, but if that were true why are we all different? and why do we find different people attractive than others? therefore science is not right. It has a lot more to do with the person we are, and how we carry ourselves than what we actually look like.

I happen to come across a really great programme called Naked Beach

The concept is quite scary to even the most body positive of people but it really shows you that in the end no one really cares what you look like. Three contestants who are very insecure about their bodies go to a private villa in Greece where a number of body positive people are there in the nude ( initially with body paint and knickers) and they help the three overcome their hang ups, and at the end they have to join the team and go naked. It really seems to work because the team that are there to help have all sorts of shapes and sizes, including Dan who had to have his arm and shoulder amputated. After watching it I felt sure I would have gone there and stripped right off and gone skinny dipping in the sea too.

I love the photo shoots from #GetYourBellyOut and Purple wings charity too, they really show that we are not really different from anybody else, we are just as gorgeous. The more we show that we don’t mind having our bottoms on our tummies then the more it becomes accepted as just one of those things like a broken leg, and nothing to stare at on the beach.

( photo Purple wings photoshoot, permission granted for this blog)

I am no spring chicken but have decided that I am comfortable with my body enough to wear clothes I like whether they are tight fitting or not. I will wear bikinis with my stoma bag on show on a crowded beach, why shouldn’t I? I realise that if you are not confident then you will think that everyone is looking at you and whispering under their breath. But maybe, just maybe they are thinking how good you look, how confident you are even with a stoma ( or other difference). If you speak to everyone you know, I can almost guarantee that there will be something they don’t like about their bodies, so that must be true about all those folk you think are staring at you.

I say embrace your body and it’s differences and don’t let me be the only one with a stoma and a bikini on that beach.

Oh, and watch  naked beach  

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Body image and coming to terms with a permanent/temporary stoma

The following comments are from some wonderful  people who agreed for me to publish them so that they could tell everyone how life with a stoma is for them, they belong to a group on Facebook called ” Making ostomies cool”. I have then added my own thoughts on body image. I have also added a gallery to my website featuring some of the following.

” I have had my bag for almost 10 years, have had two babies with it ( I am a mom of five), met the love of my life with it….I definitely will always struggle with my self confidence but I am learning. This is the second photo i have ever taken and shown with my bag. I just want people to know you can be sexy, feminine, masculine or whatever you want. The bag doesn’t define you.” Sheri

 

 

 

” I cried my eyes out, even though I’d had years of knowing it could happen one day. When I saw it for the first time it was no better truth behind my smile, I hate it ” Melanie

 

” I adore my stoma. It has given me a chance to start living in ways I didn’t think possible. I have had crohns for 10 years and other health problems too so never had the chance to have friends or have sleepovers. Missed most of my education due to this horrid disease. Now I have my bag I couldn’t be happier tbh, Iv’e never felt so attractive.” Rebecca

 

” I don’t mind my stoma, I hate my body. I have lost so much weight, gone from 9st 6lbs to 5st 4lbs.” Lynda

 

 

” I am quite open about my stoma and how much I hate it, but this photo is probably when I felt most confident, was a night out for my friends birthday.”

Hayley

 

” I  had my stoma op on the 30/03/2017 and it is all good as I was in pain 24/7, and I am not in pain as much now so I don’t mind my stoma as I feel better day by day” Joe

 

“I love my stoma, it saved my life 3 times. Although for some,a stoma can alleviate symptoms and give the person their life back after many years of suffering, where as for me, my health has only declined since my original stoma surgery 4 years ago.” Robyn

 

I love my Stoma it’s given me my life back but I do not like to see myself naked. I’m not the slimmest of people and the medication I take keeps me fat. I have a high Stoma so I the bag when out and unless I tell people nobody knows I have one” Sue

 

” I have my life since my stoma.Even when I have issues, still wouldn’t do back” Krista

I got my life back. It was planned surgery due to Crohns Colitis. I suffered terrible continence issues for years, recurring perianal abscesses and fistula which refused to clear, despite Seton drains being stitched in. I had my Colostomy in January 2010 and by November 2011, the abscesses cleared, the last drain was removed and the fistula plugged. The photo is taken on board Ventura for our daughter’s wedding October last year. It was an amazing experience and I would have had to miss it if I hadn’t had my Colostomy.”

Hazel 

 

 

“I told my surgeon I’d rather die than have a stoma. Then the first time I saw it after surgery I cried and told the nurses I hated that they’d given me a slimy red penis thing sticking out my tummy, I was only diagnosed with UC ten days before surgery. The day before I found out I needed surgery I was told by a different consultant that I’d avoided surgery. Then my usual consultant told me the following day that if I didn’t have surgery in the next 24 hours I’d be dead in 48 😔 Was a bit of a whirlwind” Hayley

 

” Hated it mines was emergency surgery but getting there now x” Karen

” I hated my colostomy. Refused to look at it. Then after 6 yrs I got used to Stan. Now I have a Ileostomy and hate it lol. Have asked surgeon if my reversal doesn’t work can I please have a Colostomy again lol.
I had mine because of radiotherapy damage, so it was a shock. Hubby has been nothing but supportive, it’s me who gets embarrassed when it farts etc.”Mary Anne

“I’m pretty confident with my stoma. I never really experienced any body image issues that had to do with my stoma (who is named mt. Vesuvius, icky Vicky for short). The way I see it, my body is the way doctors made it. I had no say in the matter. Why should I feel bad for something I had no control over? It also helps that I’ve never given a flying fuck what other people think of me. It’s like they say, “you can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world and there will still be someone who doesn’t like peaches” so I wear my bag out all of the time. If someone asks me about my bag then I have no problem answering their questions. It’s better that it happens to me than someone else with a bag who may not feel so comfortable with talking about it. I think of it as me doing my little part to raise awareness.
Feel free to use my name and pic. ”

 

Haylee 

 

 

 

“Mine was emergency but I’ve learned to embrace it and raise awareness for IBD and ostomy life”

Leelo

 

” I love mine! Had to be told about it four times (it was emergency surgery for septic shock so they only told me after the fact, and being on sedation in ICU meant I kept forgetting). I think it’s cute though and my scars make my tummy soft. I hated my body before but it seems wrong now for me to hate something I was so close to losing.”

Amy

 

“Here I am on holiday 😘” 

Linda

 

” I hated mine and still do. I wouldn’t deal with it for the first 3 months so my husband was the one who would clean it and do the bag changes. I’m finally doing it on my own now but i still hate having “Henry””Mary

 

“I was in the hospital for four weeks while they tried to save my colon. Then they came and told me they were going to have to remove it. I had no clue what it was all about. I just knew I was very sick and in extreme pain. I had a perforated colon, diverticulitis, and extremely inflammed colitis. I had colitis all my life and wasn’t diagnosed till now. Then one of my nurses told me she had an ileostomy. I was surprised. She was beautifuI, looked healthy, and didn’t seem to have any issues with it. It was because of her, that made me accept my fate immediately. I think the doctors were quite surprised when I told them “let’s get er done”. I never had an issue with it then and still don’t. Most of the time, I don’t even realize I have it. Gotta watch that. LOL I look at it as something I really needed to save my life. And that is quite okay. I’m single and if I was to ever be in a relationship again, he better be very accepting of it and I think many would anyway if they love you.” Wanda

 

“I suffered for 29 years with chronic constipation before having my iliosomy 8 months ago it is reversible but I am not having it reversed because now I am not in and of hospital every couple of weeks in pain through not having my bowels opened for weeks at a time then getting it stuck so hospital had to keep clearing me out I think if I had it reversed I would be back to square one I have my good days and my bad days but more good than bad xx” Lynda

 

“I hate mine and the condition I am in. 

 

“Do not let the bag stop you…. it came into your life so make it live your life.”

Celia

 

 

” I’m free when I’m riding.”

Tiffany

 

“I was looking at it thinking it my stoma equals life and not living in the bathroom then I’m all in!!! I thought I’ll deal with the rest as it comes. Meaning relationships, accidents, kids. I was 27 and didn’t have any of those then. I had almost died twice and didn’t care that I had a bag!” Shana

 

 

This is probably the most difficult hurdle of stoma surgery. Even if you had chance to talk about it before hand, it is not the same as actually having this thing protruding from your tummy that you actually poo from.

If you had emergency surgery you don’t even get much chance beforehand to get used to the idea. What you thought it might be like and what it is actually like is a million miles away. The shock can kick in months after surgery when you are suddenly alone with IT. You will go through  loss because yes you have lost a part of your body and it has been changed to something alien. There are the scars to contend with too, they can be very large and the shape of your tummy can alter dramatically. Will you be able to cope? will others think it gross? do I tell or do I not?

The thought of managing it on your own forever ( if permanent) or for many months (if temporary) is a very scary prospect. You don’t know if IT will behave at work or when you are out and about. You may have other complications that you are coping with at the same time.

Will your relationship with your partner change? will they find it hideous? You like to think that the answer would be no of course not if they love you, but I can assure you that I have seen posts on forums where the partners cannot cope with the idea of the stoma and the relationship fails. So in reality there has to be some post surgery counselling and I find it strange that this doesn’t happen.

For some people, they can cope because they see it as something that has made their life better, or saved their life, others cannot get their heads around that and need help with their thoughts.

Things you used to wear may not feel right anymore. I struggled for months with jeans as they felt like they pulled the stoma bag down. I can see mine protrude through some clothes and this does bother me, especially when the bag starts to fill. Some people may avoid swimwear altogether and might even decide not to go away at all because they feel their body is not good enough to show.

Counselling would help with this. They could help with the questions on body image and what your thoughts were when you first saw your stoma. It is good to talk to others too, especially the open ones who manage very well and don’t really care what people think. They can talk about why think that way and how they think that way. Some patients will avoid stoma surgery for years until they really are so ill that they have to have it, Avoidance to surgery and to even speaking about it is common. Things are slightly easier if the stoma is definitely temporary, as patients can then see light at the end of the tunnel and know they haven’t got to live forever like that.

Coping with the news that you need a stoma, or in some instances you woke up with one, can be so different for everyone. Why the surgery was performed in the first place, because it’s not all about IBD , can determine how you are able to adjust. Same for your age, not forgetting that young children have stomas too and their parents are the ones learning to cope.

You can rediscover your body after stoma surgery, it takes time and your whole life is revolving around this new body, but like everything in life, you get used to it, you may not totally like it or even accept it but it is there and only you can deal with it,

The awareness of stoma surgery has increased dramatically over the years with blogging and TV appearances by ostomates. The  #GetYourBellyOut campaign has a big impact on the way stomas are viewed now too, and all these things help people to see that their bodies are actually ok and nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean you want to be a stripper or belly dancer any time soon, but it does mean you don’t need to hide yourself away.